Conservative Felipe Calderon said his leftist opponent would be dangerous for Mexico. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador shot back that Calderon only served the rich. But neither of the two top candidates, tied in the polls, appeared to gain much ground during the final televised debate before the July 2 presidential election.
Calderon wasted little time going on the attack Tuesday night, accusing Lopez Obrador, the former Mexico City mayor, of bankrupting the capital while doing nothing to slow skyrocketing crime rates.
The ex-mayor, a fiery leftist known for off-the-cuff remarks, stayed calm and was slow to respond, but eventually blasted Calderon for influence peddling and pandering to Mexico's rich and powerful.
"What those who support [Calderon] want is a government that's a committee that serves only a few," he said. "What we want is a government that serves everybody, a country for everyone."
Lopez Obrador, who dropped in the polls after refusing to take part in the first debate in April, said he had proof Calderon had awarded a lucrative government contract to his brother-in-law while serving as energy secretary under President Vicente Fox, who is barred from seeking a second, six-year term. Both promised to create jobs and keep millions of Mexicans from heading to the US in search of work.
"The Mexican people deserve a better destiny," Lopez Obrador said. He later promised to fight US immigration proposals that call for sending troops to the border and extending fences, saying: "We have to convince them that walls, militarization of the border and heavy-handed threats are not the answer."
Calderon called for tougher punishments for criminals -- including life prison sentences for kidnappers -- and said he would improve infrastructure in cities and towns from where many migrate to the US.
"The pain of Mexico hurts me deeply," he said. "I don't want my children to inherit a defeated Mexico. I want a victorious Mexico for everyone."
He also attacked Lopez Obrador's proposals, which include pensions for the elderly, as highly irresponsible.
"The true danger is that he is proposing exorbitant government spending that will cause inflation, devaluations, economic crisis and bankrupt the country," Calderon said.